Rewards While Dining with Five Restaurant Loyalty Programs
Unlike some people I actually enjoy chain restaurants. While our family goes to some local joints, we appreciate the predictability, consistency, and standards of many chains. We have more of a recourse if something goes wrong with a chain restaurant. Also, I’m increasingly intrigued by all of the different loyalty programs created by chains. They have come a long way since Subway punch cards! What are my favorite restaurant loyalty programs? Let’s take a look at five programs from national chains in no particular order (we’ll save regional chains for another article).
Chains Included: Buffalo Wild Wings
Earning Structure: Points-based. Earn 100 points with every $10 spend.
Redemption: Starts at 350 points.
The Blazin’ Rewards program gets high marks from me for straightforward earning structure, bonus promotions, and variety of redemption options. In addition to the above earning structure, the program routinely runs bonus promotions. For instance, prior to my last visit, I enrolled in a 350 bonus point promotion via the app, and these points easily stacked with the normal points earned. Members can also earn easy points by completing app-based tasks, such as listing your favorite sports teams or checking in while at the restaurant.
Redeeming is a snap, also. You can choose your rewards via the app before your visit. Once at the restaurant, simply give your phone number for all of the rewards to be applied. With 66 current redemption options, members can choose rewards from across the menu. Multiple redemptions can be made on the same order, giving members the ability to obtain a substantial meal for free. Rewards points expire after 6 months of no earning activity.
Chains Included: Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Steakhouse
Earning Structure: Visit-based.
Redemption: After three qualifying visits (minimum spend of $20; $40 at Fleming’s), get 50% off your next visit (up to $20 off; up to $40 off at Fleming’s).
I enjoy the Dine Rewards program particularly for their nice variety of steakhouses, Italian, and seafood restaurants. Earning rewards in this program is fairly simple, but timeframes are stringent. A member must have three qualifying visits within six months in order to obtain a 50% off reward. This reward expires 90 days after the third qualifying visit. Consequently, this program is mostly viable for frequent diners who visit often in a particular timeframe. For me, that’s a lot of looking at a calendar and losing rewards. However, diners who find themselves at these restaurants anyway can easily benefit from this program.
Piece of the Pie Rewards
Chains Included: Domino’s Pizza
Earning Structure: Point-based. Earn 10 points for every order with $10 minimum spend.
Redemption: After earning 60 points, redeem for any two-topping medium pizza.
I enjoy Domino’s Piece of the Pie Rewards program for its integration within the excellent Domino’s app. Simply logging in and ordering via the app records your visit and points earning. In my experience the most lucrative Domino’s promotions, including 50% off any pizza, have been available exclusively via the app and online. I have found the order progress bar to be particularly accurate. Recently, I also quintuple-stacked rewards with Domino’s.
Redemptions are simple but limited. The only available reward redemption option is a two-topping medium pizza. Rewards points expire after 180 days of inactivity (earning or redeeming). Interestingly, I have only been allowed to use two gift cards per app order.
My Chili’s Rewards
Chains Included: Chili’s
Earning Structure: No points earned, but become a “Chili’s Regular” after one visit ($5 minimum spend) every 60 days.
Redemption: A Chili’s Regular gets a complimentary choice of chips and salsa or non-alcoholic beverage every visit.
I particularly like the My Chili’s Rewards program for its ease of redemption and overall value. Becoming a Chili’s Regular is simple, and Regulars immediately get access to (small) rewards. This program shines with its seemingly always-present account offers. Check your account online or via the app to see what’s available prior to visiting. The vast majority of occasions I check, I have an offer available for redemption, including: free chips and queso, free appetizer, free kids meal, or free dessert. I generally qualify for these freebies with just one entree purchase. On a whole, I’ve found the value of the freebies to be quite high relative to the price I need to pay to get it (one entree). Account housekeeping is minimal; there are no points to worry about expiring.
Chains Included: Wendy’s
Earning Structure: N/A
Redemption: Continuous and ever-present!
The only fast food joint on this list, I value the Wendy’s program for its offer availability and overall food quality compared to other restaurants in its category. In viewing the app, it’s easier to consider this program as a collection of digital coupons. But they can be lucrative! For instance, I currently see an offer for a free Dave’s Single with any purchase. My move here is to get a cheap side to activate the free Dave’s single. I then enjoy my lunch for a little over a buck. Their offer variety is solid, as well, covering burgers and chicken sandwiches but also salads, drinks, and now breakfast (which I haven’t tried yet). I’m also able to stack my free Jr. Frosty keychain tag with any of the digital coupons I redeem for an order (YMMV, though). Be on the lookout for digital coupons only redeemable for mobile orders; I’ve increasingly seen the better deals on mobile orders only.
Stack Discounted Gift Cards with Restaurant Loyalty Programs
Ensure to use discounted gift cards when possible for all of the above restaurants. You can use gift cards while earning points and/or rewards with all of these programs. Easily obtain discounted gift cards at a variety of merchants, including wholesale clubs, online retailers, and grocery stores (via fuel rewards programs).
Some specific discounted gift card options vary by restaurant chain. Buffalo Wild Wings is a participating merchant with some Happy Cards, and discounted Happy Cards are routinely available online and stack with frequent Amex Offers. Sam’s Club has sold Chili’s gift cards at an extremely deep discount around Black Friday. I definitely took advantage of this offer, scoring $100 of Chili’s gift cards for about $70 each time, a huge 30% discount.
Restaurant Loyalty Programs – Final Thoughts
These restaurant loyalty programs can provide substantial value for fans of certain restaurants. Inevitably, we all patronize a variety of restaurants where programs like this will not apply. However, when you do end up at one of these national chains, why not get free stuff? What other national chains have loyalty programs you enjoy? What strategies have you used to gain outsized value at these establishments?